Monday, August 26, 2013
Heath Holland On...3-D!
Two things happened recently that led to this column. First, I read an interview that director (and self-proclaimed King of the World) James Cameron gave to the BBC in which he stated that in the future all entertainment will be 3D. He went on to say that we see the world in 3D, so that is how we will want to see our entertainment. Interestingly enough, just a few weeks ago he also said that many of the movies that are coming out in 3D don’t actually need to be in 3D. Try to figure that one out.
The other thing happened when I sat down to view the 1953 John Wayne movie Hondo. The Blu-ray began with an introduction by Leonard Maltin explaining that Hondo was shot in 3D because of the appeal of the format in the early '50s. Maltin discusses how 3D was already fading in popularity by the time the movie was released in November of that year and there was (and still is) controversy as to whether or not to make it a nationwide 3D release. Some people are still saying that it only showed in 3D on a few screens, while others say that it was shown in 3D everywhere. The only thing those two camps agree on is that 3D had declined in popularity relatively quickly.
So here we have a movie that, in 1953, was at the tail-end of the 3D movement, but we also have James Cameron today talking about how 3D is the format of the future. As it turns out, people have been claiming that for sixty years, yet 3D has largely been considered a novelty, fad, and gimmick. Despite the prophecies of the future, we find ourselves once again at what seems to be the end of a 3D cycle.
But here we are a decade and hundreds of 3D movies later, and it appears as if the format has worn out its welcome in America and is losing appeal once more. Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University had the two lowest 3D-to-2D profits of all time.
So how did we get here? How did 3D go from being the savior of the movie industry to being such an insignificant (yet expensive) contributor to the current box office? And why does James Cameron still think that 3D is the future?
I’ve seen a modest amount of movies in 3D; at best, I’ve found it to be immersive and complimentary, and at worst I’ve found it to be distracting and headache-inducing. Honestly, it still seems like a fad to me, predominantly being used to make mediocre movies play for a wider audience.
James Cameron is right when he says that we see movies in 3D, but that doesn’t mean that it’s how I want my entertainment. I don’t want to have those annoying special glasses or see a darkened picture when I go to the movies, and let’s face it, the experience of 3D is fleeting. I don’t remember things like depth of field when I think back on my favorite scene in a film. I remember the story (hopefully) and the overall experience.
In fact, the magic of filmmaking is that you’re creating a false reality that feels like a real one. This is why we get lost in movies in the first place. If a movie has done its job, it will feel real to me. The day or week after I’ve seen a movie, I don’t remember things like special effects (unless they’re bad) and I sure don’t remember that a tree in a 3D movie stuck out a little bit more than it did in a 2D movie. I remember characters and situations and problems that I can relate to or that transported me.
But it seems like audiences in the '50s discovered what we’re discovering again now: 3D is a neat idea and it’s great for making monsters pop out or scares more intense, but it doesn’t do a lot for the movie itself. And after the theatrical run, you’ll probably never replicate the experience of seeing that movie in 3D again. 3D televisions are expensive and hard to find. 3D is a luxury, and most people aren’t willing to pay for that luxury anymore.
Part of the reason that 3D sales are down is because more and more movies are using it as a crutch to increase ticket sales. Take GI Joe: Retaliation, for example. I’m on record as being a big fan of the movie in spite of its faults (I think it’s a movie only a kid or a hard-core GI Joe comic fan can appreciate, as evidenced by the reviews), but the movie is pretty thin. Paramount knew it was thin, too, because they delayed the release of the movie from May of 2012 to almost a year later in March of 2013. The reason given for this was that the film was going to be converted to 3D to increase international markets.
Outside America, 3D is still making loads and loads of cash. Internationally, this franchise that takes a fantastical, super-hero look at the US military made twice what it made in America. That’s crazy, right? So Paramount’s strategy totally worked and GI Joe: Retaliation made $371 million worldwide. They knew exactly what they were doing.
So wrapping up, let’s revisit James Cameron’s statement about 3D as the future. Hey, let’s also revisit his statement from a few weeks ago about how some of this summer’s movies didn’t need to be in 3D. What does he mean by that? Well, he has specifically named Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel as examples of movies that were unnecessarily converted to 3D. He’s also on record as saying movies that use 3D for a cheap thrill, like Pirhana 3D, aren’t doing it right either. Keep in mind, this comes from the director of Pirhana II: The Spawning. Cameron says these movies that use 3D as a fun gimmick remind him of Friday the 13th 3D. He means that as a bad thing for some reason.
I believe what James Cameron was TRYING to say is that a lot of movies are being made that aren’t utilizing the technology properly and are being used as gimmicks, but given the man’s background I have a hard time taking these statements as anything other than him declaring himself the Messiah of 3D Entertainment. HE is the one who really knows how to use 3D. To be clear, his idea of this future of 3D seems to be lots and lots of Avatar sequels.
*Note* If you really want to have a good time, re-read this column and take a drink every time you see “3D.” Then go see something in 3D, but don’t put on the glasses. Fun fact: when you’ve been knocking ‘em back, the blurry screen isn’t blurry anymore.